60/60 Review #19: Saving Private Ryan.

You might not know this, but this film was one of the primary inspirations for doing the 60/60 List in the first place. After listening to an episode of Reel Insight, there was a discussion about Saving Private Ryan. Of course, I soon admitted that I hadn't seen it, which opened a personal floodgate of other must-see films I hadn't seen. It's too bad this film didn't end up #20 on the list, as that would have been cool. Alas, we'll stick with #19.

For those who are like myself and hadn't yet seen the film, it follows Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) during World War II. After a horrible round of battles, 3 of the 4 Ryan brothers are killed in action. In order to stop their mother from the ultimate devastation of losing all of her children at the same time, orders come down from the government to send in a team to extract Private James Ryan (Matt Damon) from the war and send him home to what's left of his family. Joining Miller's team are Sgt. Mike Horvath (Tom Sizemore), Private Reiben (Edward Burns), sniper Private Jackson (Barry Pepper), Private Mellish (Adam Goldberg), Private Caparzo (Vin Diesel), Medic Wade (Giovanni Ribisi), and translator Cpl. Upham (Jeremy Davies). Also showing up for bit cameos are Ted Danson, Paul Giamatti, Dennis Farina, Leland Orser, and Nathan Fillion (who wasn't really a name at the time, but was a fun spot now).

Like Black Hawk Down (BHD), this was one of those "who isn't in this movie?" movies. The acting chops were top notch, though I personally enjoyed Barry Pepper and Jeremy Davies the most. It took me a while to realize it was Jeremy Davies--I recognized the actor, but I had to look it up before realizing it was Faraday from LOST. Anyway, Pepper was pretty awesome as the sniper, but it was Davies that had the most character development.

And that's what I was totally missing from BHD. This film is superior in every way. The cinematography is really good and very gritty. And while the visuals and gore in the aforementioned film were, well... there... this one took it to an upsetting level. I'm a fan of horror movies, and gore doesn't bother me all that much. But the realism in this film very nearly made me sick to my stomach. When a certain character dies from a shot to the torso, and all you're seeing is blood continually pouring from the open wound as he begs for morphine and cries for his mother... yeah, it's intense. And the violence starts off almost immediately. There's a brief intro that leads into a flashback, but after they hit that beach, the body count starts to skyrocket. I think my jaw was open for almost the entirety of that first 30 minutes. And it didn't shy back from there.

The movie is slightly shy of 3 hours, but it didn't feel it. I was captivated the entire time, despite feeling uncomfortable through the majority of that time span. It was able to keep things fresh by continually moving on to different side-missions while they traveled the countryside looking for Private Ryan. From liberating a town and taking down a sniper to removing a hidden threat from a radar station to setting up a final line of defense at a bridge (and more), you're continually kept on your toes on what's going to happen next. And you know that nobody is safe and any of them can die at any time, which only helps build the tension and unease.

What I really enjoyed was the fact that there was character development. It wasn't just a bunch of empty shells going on a rescue mission like in BHD. These were real people. You came to like or care about them. And even if you didn't know them that well, they had personalities that you could latch on to. As I said before Davies goes through the most change, starting as a guy who hadn't handled a gun since basic training to, well... I don't want to spoil it. He's no Rambo or anything, but when he realizes an earlier mistake has come back to haunt him (a fact I didn't catch at first), he has to face his conscience. It's a painful moment for him.

This film has been touted as one of the most realistic war films ever made, and I can definitely see why. By the end of the film, I was emotionally drained. And I'll be honest, I don't cry very often in movies--and I still didn't here--but the notion crossed my mind on multiple occasions. The film had some of the best and brutal war scenes I've seen, and that mixed with really good characters, a good story, and... good-to-great everything, that makes this, honestly, one of if not the best war film I've seen. Of course, I still have a handful of films left for the rest of this month, but I'm not sure if any of the ones I have lined up will top what this one accomplished.

Rating System.
Royale With Cheese


  1. One of my all-time favorites...and if you think it emotionally rocked you on dvd, imagine what it did to me in a theatre!

    (Sidenote - hearing my name being called out by soldiers over and over was very disconcerting).

    My questions to you this time has me playing a bit of devil's advocate, since arguing the film as one of my faves for so long has long had me fending off the same criticisms.

    Do you think the film over-sentimentalizes the story?

    Did you find the sequence involving Nathan Fillion to be a ham-fisted play at comic relief?

    Did you find the film's coda at Normandy to be needlessly obvious and schmaltzy?

  2. 1) No, I don't think there's an over-sentimentality in the story.

    2) Definitely not. In fact, I felt really bad for Nathan Fillion. But I'm the kind of person who feels bad for people when practical jokes are played on them. I know this wasn't a practical joke--it was an honest mix-up. But for something as serious as a dead sibling, it was more horrifying to me than funny. And when he was still going "Are you sure he's OK? Are you sure?" or whatever, I could understand why he was asking that. In the hypersensitive area that's a war zone, you're sure to become paranoid, especially about the deaths of people you care about.

    3) I'm assuming you're talking about the end of the movie? I'm not sure what you're asking me here.

  3. The weeping trumpet over a faded American flag doesn't smack of over-sentimentality? What about the sun-soaked typing pool or the Rockwell-esque Ryan family farmhouse?

    As for Fillion, if it doesn't play for laughs, is the scene insensitive?

    What I'm getting at with the finale is this - was the question the man asked his wife really neccessary or does it overstate the obvious?

  4. 1) Oh, yeah, that. I thought ending with the flag thing was a bit much. But it only lasted a few seconds and didn't define the whole film to me. And keep in mind that I'm seeing this for the first time now, after 3 Spider-Man films and countless others that used the same motif. It was more of 'the same old thing' to me. The other two things didn't stick out to me.

    2) And no, I don't think the scene was insensitive, either. I think it did what it set out to do and was just fine. Nothing wrong with it.

    3) I can see where you're coming from, but I think you're suffering from over-analysis. I didn't think it was too much, though, to answer your question.

  5. See, as a Canadian those bookends (recall that it opens with the same shot) bug me. D-Day was an allied operation, and many Canadians and Brits died that day too.

    I don't think it's over-analysis to say that lines like "Earn this" and "Tell me I led a good life" are as obvious as a smack to the head - and recall that I say these things as a fan.

  6. I'm not sure what you mean by "obvious." Like, of course he was a good man and earned his right to live on, thus it became redundant to ask his wife?

    No, I don't think it was as obvious as you're saying it is. It would be obvious if we saw the guy's life in juxtaposition with the war segments. But really, we have no idea how he lived his life after leaving the war up until that moment. He was emotional and wanted reassurance that he's lived his life well.

    I find it interesting that you try to talk me into liking movies I don't, and now you're trying to make me find some dislike in movies I don't.

  7. I'm not trying to make you dislike it...as I said in the very first comment, I'm only trying to play devil's advocate.

    You've won me over on the Fillion scene, but you haven't swayed me on the sun-drenched Norman Rockwell moments that dot the film (nor did you have any answer for the blatant Americanism that flanks the film).

    As for the moments of obviousness, my point is this - watching these two scenes play out, the idea that "Shit, Ryan had better earn this" and "Good God, he's probably standing there wondering if he did" are thoughts that would already go through any intelligent viewer's brain.....why spell it out with deliberate declarations?

    (Even as a massive fan of the film, the second one especially bugs me these days)

  8. Wait... did you just call me an unintelligent viewer? Because those thoughts weren't going through my head. I'm offended, sir. You've gotta understand that your line of thought doesn't necessarily mean that's everybody else's line of thought.

    Also, as for the Norman Rockwell stuff... I didn't answer because, to quote Bones, "I don't know what that means."

    And I'm pretty sure I did touch on the blatant Americanism. I've seen it saturating half the films put out since 9/11 that it didn't phase me or even stand out as anything distracting.

  9. Hatter - you twerp, you LOVE this film. Do you think it over-sentimentalizes the story?

    I'm with you on our American tendency to ignore the contributions of other countries. It happens, it's wrong. Let go of it.

    I only find the find final sequences schmaltzy because I don't think that older man who plays Ryan is a good actor. I think Earn This is exactly what came out of everything we already knew about his character - concise, to the point, and a teacher who tells people what to do.

  10. @ Nick... I did not mean to offend. Perhaps I've seen the film enough times to see all the arrows that point to those declarations...arrows I might not have noticed the first time around.

    As for Norman Rockwell, look it up.

    As for post 9/11 rah-rah, this film came before 9/11 and as such doesn't get to hide under that banner. Thus the question still stands.

    @ Jess... Yes, I love this film dearly. But yes, if I could help it I'd cut at least one of those two lines.

    There are very few actors who could make that final scene any less schmaltzy, and for all the purpose it serves it's almost completely unnecessary.

    "It happens. It's wrong. Let it go" That's your best answer? I'll offer you a chance to rephrase.

    @ Both of You... I ask these questions because I believe discussing the films we watch is why we blog, am I wrong?

  11. Jess explained the Norman Rockwell bit to me, and I disagree with you. The country farm home scene lasts 2 minutes max and is so minute it's not worth even arguing about. I also don't think the film is all that optimistic or drenched in patriotism. In fact, the soldiers are often unpatriotic and rather selfish. There's no "we leave no man behind" like Black Hawk Down was saturated with. It's every man for themselves, and we're only going after Ryan because it's our job, not because he's a brother at arms.

    The "Earn It" and whatnot, to me, shows Hanks' frustration with the whole thing. Fubar. He didn't care about Ryan. In his dying breath, he wanted Ryan to feel in his soul that he and the majority of his squad (and friends) died so that he can live, so he damn well better earn their deaths. That is a LOT of pressure on one guy's shoulders, and when you're standing in a sea of graves... yeah, I'd be overcome and ask my wife if I'd accomplished that task.

    Also... I like how you're giving Jess permission to rephrase her statement, like you're better than her. :P

    Finally, yeah, we blog to discuss films. But these points you've brought up are mostly inconsequential to the film as a whole. The three primary scenes you drew issue with (the bookends, the Nathan Fillion scene, and the farm house) make up maybe 10 minutes of the whole film combined... and only that much because there's a lot of silent walking in the bookend scenes. For a nearly 3 hour film, that's nothing.

  12. @Hatter- of course that's why we blog. To rephrase: almost all American movies about war ignore the efforts of other countries (The Hurt Locker a recent exception). This is not new so I find it odd that the flag shot bothers you.

    I'd actually like to hear what you dug about the film that what you don't like.

  13. Also... in all my typing, I forgot to comment about the flag shot again. My point is that, despite the fact this film came out before 9/11, I didn't watch it before 9/11. Your question was if I felt that was too much, blah blah, right? I gave you an answer. No, I don't feel it was too much, because I'm used to it... because of all the films I've seen since 9/11.

  14. One of those movies I can't stop watching over and over again. Must have seen it 50 times by now and every single instance, it's thoroughly captivating and gut wrenching. Indeed one of the greatest war movie of all-time.


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